PART 4 OF AN EPIC INTERVIEW WITH . . . BERNARD SCHAFFER
Q: What was the genesis of Confederation Reborn?
Bernard: I’d come up with this unshakeable idea for a new Star Trek series that just worked. It paid homage to what came before, while giving the franchise a shot of much-needed vitality and adrenaline. When I realized I wouldn’t get the rights to do Star Trek, and that they’re not interested in staking any new ground, I went back to the drawing board. I realized that we could take the entire mythology of Star Trek and reshape it. The franchise itself is a reshape of multiple other mythologies in SciFi and western and military stories, etc. Confederation Reborn is just evolving that concept.
Q: How did you come up with the series title? What does it mean?
Bernard: I wanted everything to be similar enough to the source, so that fans knew what and who I was taking about, but just different enough to keep from getting sued.
Q: Tell us about Return Fire.
Bernard: that’s the foundation for the rest of the titles in the series, but it’s at the end. It’s after the entire history of Confederation, right up to its present time. As I wrote it, I realized you can’t discuss the mass and weight of this thing without actually having a history. Otherwise, it’s just a paper doll. The best part was, as I began to conceptualize this history, it became clear that we can go back and tell stories from all those various eras.
Q: Your stories in Confederation Reborn take place after The Invasion has devastated inhabited space. Some might read this to be post-apocalyptic fiction. But, circling back to Part 3 of this interview in a way, is it really about stepping back into the light?
Bernard: I actually don’t see it as apocalyptic. I see it as more of a modern times analogy. Let’s face it, people are wondering if the US is still going to be here a hundred years from now. Or the UK. Or any of the major world powers. Confederation is a governmental organization that everybody thinks had seen the last of its good days. It’s up to the people in that organization to find a way to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get back on track. The secret is, it’s always been the people who made it great. It will be the people who make it great again. Same as my country, same as yours.
Q: It’s hard not to make a connection between the events prior to Return Fire and one of the most catastrophic terrorist attacks in recent years – 9/11. It seems as if the events of that day will have continued repercussions for years to come. What are the parallels between an America rising up from the shadow of terrorism, and a Confederation regrouping following a terrible alien invasion?
Bernard: as horrific as 9/11 was, America is not unique in being attacked or suffering loss. Now, after Sandy Hook and all the other incidents we’ve dealt with, it seems like one long series of nightmares. But anybody can show greatness when things are easy. Anybody can rise to the occasion when the occasion is small and arbitrary. To be truly great as a person, as a team, as a country, you have to do it when it counts. If America wants to be that shining city on the hill, and I believe that we can, and I believe that we are, now is the time to prove it.
Q: Certainly, the “War on Terror” hasn’t all been about enacting justice and doing what is right. It’s also forced us to take a long hard look at ourselves and ask the important questions. “What are our values?” “How far do we go?” “What separates us from them?” “Where does extremism come from?” The list could go on. In a way, asking these questions of ourselves relates to the act of writing itself in that during the writing of a story or novel, we’re forced to face our own fears, our own inadequacies. Is that what all writers aspire to do, ultimately? Find the truth in what they’re saying. Confront their own darkness to understand that of others?
Bernard: One thing I’ve tried to explain in way of the warrior is that I haven’t really met many evil people. I’ve met people who have done evil things and cruel things and horrible things but in their mind they were justified. If we were to speak with Hitler or Osama bin Laden or any other commonly thought of as evil person I guarantee you they wouldn’t see themselves in that same way. They would have their explanations and rationalizations for everything that they had done. And none of it would make sense to me or you but that wouldn’t matter because it made sense to them. When I was writing Whitechapel I had to call the FBI’s behavioral sciences unit. They’re the ones who deal with serial killers. I could not fathom why Jack the Ripper had done what he’d done. Why was he killing the victims in that way? Why was he arranging them in that way? Why was he stealing their organs. I was looking for a scientific explanation. What they told me, and what I believe to be true, is that there is no scientific explanation. The only person it made sense to was Jack the Ripper. As long as my character understood what he was doing and why he was doing it then it was as real and plausible as any other theory.
Q: If think what has worked so well with Confederation Reborn so far is that you’ve presented variations on classic character archetypes. Every one of them is nuanced in a very real and grounded way. Nothing is in black and white. Referring back to the previous question, there’s a point during Return Fire that I started questioning their hatred of The Swarm. Certainly the Captain’s approach. Do you think we have a responsibility, in this day and age, to make every character a multi-faceted personality who feels real, believable and relatable?
Bernard: I think it certainly makes for a better story. The idea of a cookie-cutter bad guy won’t fly anymore. Readers are too astute. Obviously, there have been successful books that did not examine the antagonist. We don’t know anything about Sauron or why he wants to destroy Middle Earth. Gollum, on the other hand is a much richer character who is clearly a villain, but also tragic. Probably the best author I’ve ever seen do it is Thomas Harris. The way he examines the serial killers in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs is both fascinating and horrifying because they seem so real. I wouldn’t call it a responsibility, per se, as in our collective social duty as authors. I’d call it a good decision as a storyteller.
Q: In what way do you draw on your own experiences, as a boy and a man, in writing your characters? In finding their truth and expressing it so well on the page?
Bernard: my police career informs my work, in more ways than even I can fathom, I’m sure. My relationships with my kids, the loves and fears I have for them, all play into my work. And last but not least, all the women that have been in my life. All the women I’ve ever lost. All the women I’ve ever wanted. Alex Maisey once asked me what motivated me to write so much. I told him I hate being poor. I think of all the things I want in life and the only way to get them is to break through in this business. Really, my idea of luxury is to make enough money writing that I can have more time for writing. It’s a circle, of course.
Q: Forgive me, I’m going to quote Star Trek V now. I’m thinking of the scene where Sybok offers to reveal Kirk’s inner pain and hurt. Reveal it and help him come to terms with it. But Kirk refuses. “I need my pain!”. I tried for years to write and was never able to do more than a few thousand words before giving up. But once I was married, had a daughter, had lived a little, I found my perspective on things had changed. I’d become a man, and that informed my writing. In fact, my own experiences, combined with those others had told me, gave me something to write about. Does personal experience add another level to someone’s writing?
Bernard: I’ll tell you something about me no one knows. When I was eighteen years old I decided I needed more life experience, so I went out in search of as many strange jobs as I could find. I dug ditches, carried buckets of concrete up from basements, cleaned toilets, worked security at a trash dump, sold knives, and worked at Adult World. Adult World is a porno shop where they sell x-rated movies, sex toys, and rent video booths out. I rang the register and cleaned the booths at night. And as bad as that sounds, which it was, that wasn’t the worst part. The video machines in the booths only accepted dollar bills, so little old men would come in and get twenty, fifty dollars in singles. When they opened their wallets, I’d see pictures of their grandkids or their wives and families. Then, they’d vanish into the video booths. Invariably, I’d watch these old men go from booth to booth, searching for someone to hook up with. They’d skulk in the shadows, turning doorknobs on lit booths, searching for someone who’s left it open. It was just sad. These desperate people searching for human contact. It was my first true look at the face of humanity, and has served me well in detectives. Of course, there were upsides to the job. I had a lot of female customers and some wanted…well. I was a young man then. Maybe that was my first true look at the face of humanity, come to think of it.
Q: When did you start writing for real, and what precipitated that?
Bernard: several things happened to me all at once. I got separated from my wife and was living in this tiny, dismal apartment with no heat and yellow water. I missed the kids terribly. Up till that point I’d been a blogger and essay writer and written a lot of short stories. I had ideas for novels, but none of them ever got off the ground. So there I was, going out of my mind, and this woman named Karen reached out to me one day to comment on a blog I’d written. Karen was the first person to really encourage me to become a serious writer. She pushed me in ways no one ever had before. She was brutal in her critiques, something I’d never been able to tolerate before, but since I was already at such a low point, there wasn’t much ego to shred. She was the one who helped me escape the blogger, comic book script mentality and get serious. I love her very much for that.
Q: There are a lot of different writers at work on Confederation Reborn stories, set throughout its timeline. The story we wrote together, for instance, is set during the Renaissance Period and features Captain Kirn. It’s very much in the style of classic Trek. How do you plan on keeping the continuity consistent?
Bernard: it’s going to be tricky. I’ve been compiling a writer’s guide as we go along, trying to keep all the details consistent. When I wrote Whitechapel, I had huge maps and 1888 calendars taped to the walls of my apartment, just to keep myself on track. I’m used to large projects. Laurie, the editor, is a big help also. She’s used to searching for canon consistency with large sagas, from your Far From Home series, to my Grendel and so forth.
Q: How does what you’re doing with Confederation Reborn compare with, say, Kindle Worlds?
Bernard: well, the difference is that Kindle Worlds has the power of the world’s largest book distributor behind it. It deals with established properties. Confederation Reborn is a project of love that I’m putting together with my friends. I am interested in Kindle World’s though. I may have some involvement with them in the near future.
Q: Science fiction serials are a proven success on Kindle – what are your hopes for Confederation Reborn as an ongoing series set across multiple timelines?
Bernard: multiple individual episodes dealing with a particular era or storyline that are compiled into larger complete editions.
Q: Is Confederation Reborn a return to the core premise of Star Trek? And how does it compare to the deluge of Trek novels already out there?
Bernard: it is meant to. That is what I designed it to do. As far as the deluge goes, I think they’re doing their best with what they’re allowed to do. There are people who love Picard and Janeway and want to read more about their continuing adventures. The trouble is, that’s drawn pretty thin now. Confederation Reborn is not only a way to move that entire mythology forward, it can play with the ideas in new ways. We’re reinterpreting Star Trek, as well as other franchises, but at the same time we have no obligation to play by the rules. We can do whatever we want with our characters.
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